Consumers have recently begun to embrace mobile commerce (m-commerce), a trend that will surely accelerate in the coming years. Per a June 2013 comScore survey, today’s online shoppers are already more likely to connect to retail websites via mobile devices than through desktop computers and laptops. With tablet and smartphone sales far outpacing those of PCs, e-tailers need to create online experiences that cater to mobile shoppers — immediately, if not sooner — to avoid losing customers to their savvier rivals.
Unfortunately for online retailers, mobile shoppers don’t behave in a uniform fashion. The m-commerce marketplace is quite nascent and lacks any hard-and-fast rules for driving repeat business or increasing audience share. Nevertheless, there are a few core principles that can help retailers adapt to and succeed in the new mobile landscape.
The first principle is an obvious but crucial one: Retailers that haven’t already done so must implement a mobile strategy as quickly as possible. To be effective, the strategy will need to address, among other things, means and methods to: provide consumers with the best possible online experience; leverage customers’ mobile behavior to pull them into the retailer’s physical locations; and bolster the retailer’s ongoing sales and marketing campaigns with mobile marketing tactics.
Even as they plan for the near-future, retailers must keep a firm eye on the horizon. Mobile devices currently come in a variety of shapes and sizes — iPhones, Kindles, Androids, iPads, other tablets and smartphones. Mobile watches have recently rolled into the market, mobile glasses aren’t far away, and who knows what other devices are being imagined in laboratories, classrooms, and garages around the world?
Retailers therefore need to stay on the cutting edge of website technology — in particular, responsive and adaptive web design — to ensure that their mobile solutions reach the widest possible audience in the clearest, user-friendliest way. Another critical design factor is the ability to deliver flexible content and rich media to devices with different mobile connection speeds; getting this right requires a commitment to a comprehensive testing regimen that includes comparing and analyzing results across and among multiple devices and browsers.
Ongoing, wide-ranging device testing is particularly important because smartphone and tablet users behave quite differently. While smartphone-based consumers tend to be on the move and therefore prefer speed and ease of use over detailed information, shoppers on tablets are often in relaxed environments and are more likely to delve into the details of items that interest them. (That might explain why tablet users are also much more inclined to make purchases than smartphone users are, since browsing requires less time and focus than an informed purchase decision does.)
Instead of relying on a single, standardized mobile approach, retailers should tailor their tactics to attract, retain, and optimize these discrete customer groups. Once again, continuous, rigorous testing will be needed, both to identify the divergent behaviors within their audience and to determine the actions, experiences, and offers that engage and appeal to specific users. Retailers that excel in this effort will gain a significant advantage over their rivals.
A superior mobile strategy should also recognize that mobile devices can increase efficiency in physical stores. Using tablets or smartphones as mobile POS can reduce waiting times at checkout (and, by eliminating cash-wrap stations, enhance floor-traffic flow). Tablets equipped with clienteling applications also offer sales associates easy access to shoppers’ habits and penchants, enhancing and customizing their in-store experience — thereby increasing sales, AOV, and the likelihood of repeat business.
As noted earlier, m-commerce is a young, not-quite-matured marketplace. Consumers’ mobile shopping behaviors are nowhere near set in stone, and trying to predict future generations of mobile devices is a gamble at best. That said, mobile commerce will continue to grow, offering retailers new revenue-generating opportunities. Certain mobile approaches, such as responsive, adaptive web design and the integration of mobile tactics as a means to driving and supporting a retailer’s larger sales and marketing endeavors, will no doubt become standard practices, and successful e-tailers will continually hone their testing capabilities and update their plans as results and analysis dictate.
Edited by Maurice Nagle